The political crisis in Rivers State took another dimension yesterday with the Sunday night’s bombing of the high court on Omoku Road in Ahoada, headquarters of Ahoada East Local Government Area.
Besides, an explosive device was discovered yesterday within the court’s premises.
Also yesterday, the Rivers High Court in Okehi, headquarters of Etche Local Government Area, was razed. Documents were burnt in the incident, which Council Chairman Reginald Okwuoma described as a deliberate act by the opposition to ensure the declaration of a state of emergency in the state.
The Registrar of the Rivers High Court in Okehi, Ken Dappa, was shocked by the burning of the court by yet unknown arsonists and described the incident as “condemnable”.
The main opposition All Progressives Congress (APC), Rivers chapter, accused the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) of being behind the violence in the state, but PDP Chairman Felix Obuah blamed those he called government agents for the bomb blasts.
The representative of Omuma/Etche Constituency in the House of Representatives, Ogbonna Nwuke, who is a former Rivers Commissioner for Information, said attacks on courts’ premises were “senseless”, noting that enemies of democracy were at work.
The Officer-in-Charge of the Bomb Squad of the Rivers Police Command, Taiwo Akingbeyin, and the command’s spokesman, Ahmad Muhammad, confirmed the “explosion” in the Ahoada court and the razing of the Etche court. They urged residents not to panic.
A senior member of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), who was at the Ahoaha court for his clients’ cases said the bomb “seriously damaged” a section of the court housing the secretariat of the NBA, Ahoada Branch.
The lawyer also said that yesterday morning, a wrapped object, suspected to be another bomb, was discovered within the court’s premises.
Joint Task Force (JTF) officers cordoned off the area as workers, lawyers and litigants scampered to safety.
The court, presided over by Justice Charles Wali, who is handling the suit on the speakership of the state’s Assembly between Otelemaba Dan Amachree (who represents Asari-Toru Constituency) and Evans Bipi (Ogu/Bolo, First Lady’s ex-domestic aide), could not sit.
The judicial workers, litigants and lawyers, according to the lawyer, were asked to vacate the premises.
On December 18, last year, Justice Wali’s office and car park were hit by explosion at 3 am. A guard on duty was missing, two days after the judge restrained the self-acclaimed speaker (Bipi) from parading himself as the Assembly’s helmsman.
The motion on notice for interlocutory injunction was adjourned on December 16 till yesterday for hearing, but the court could not sit yesterday because of the explosion.
The main opposition party, in an online statement by the Interim Publicity Secretary of the Rivers chapter, Andy Nweye, titled: “APC condemns Extension of violence to the Judiciary by the PDP”, described as barbaric, the bombing of the Ahoada court.
APC said: “We totally condemn the present resort to physical violence against the judiciary and officials of court in Rivers State by members of the PDP.
“The extension of violence to the judiciary in Rivers State by the PDP and their agents started to assume a dangerous dimension, after Justice Wali of the Ahoada High Court granted an injunction on December 16, restraining the member representing Ogu/Bolo in the Rivers State House of Assembly, Evans Bipi, from parading himself as the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly.
“A few hours later, the court building was bombed by suspected PDP members/agents. In the night of Sunday, January 5, elements suspected to be members of the PDP bombed an Ahoada High Court building.
”Less than a week earlier, the PDP had widely circulated a press statement, signed by the PDP Chairman, Felix Obuah, claiming that the Governor of Rivers State was trying to use the same Ahoada High Court to protect the Leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Chidi Lloyd, a claim that is vexatious, malicious and patent falsehood.
“The Ahoada High Cour destroy t complex has been cordoned off by the police, because of two objects confirmed by the police to be bombs, planted on the premises. These bombs have been planted by the PDP and its agents, to prevent the sitting of the Ahoada High Court, for the hearing of arguments on interlocutory injunction barring Evans Bipi from perpetually parading himself as Speaker of the State Assembly.”
The party said rather than file papers and argue their case in court, its opponents had resorted to preventing the court from sitting through planting of bombs at the court premises.
The statement went on: “Just yesterday, six individuals reportedly linked to Hon. Evans Bipi and Senator George Sekibo (the representative of Rivers East Senatorial District, an ally of the wife of President Goodluck Jonathan, Dame Patience, who wants to be Rivers Governor in 2015) were arrested on their way to Ogu/Bolo with seven AK-47 assault weapons, among others, by men of the JTF.”
The party said the arrest of the six associates of Sekibo and Bipi had confirmed its worst fears that the PDP had resorted to using terrorism as official party policy.
It insisted that it had every reason to strongly believe that the arrested, well-armed six men were part of the ruthless snipers PDP trained for use against political opponents.
APC said: “Despite the PDP openly announcing the verdict that Justice Adama Iyayi-Laminkanra would give on the Obio/Akpor Local Government Council case, many weeks before the verdict was handed down, the APC did not resort to violence against the person of Justice Laminkanra, her court and any member or institution of the judiciary in Rivers State before, during and after the verdict was given.
“We are deeply surprised that despite the obvious perpetration of these dastardly acts of violence against the judiciary by suspected members of the PDP and the GDI (Grassroots Development Initiative, which has as Grand Patron, the Supervising Minister of Education, Nyesom Wike), the Rivers State Police Command and other security agencies in the state are yet to make arrest and it appears that they are not in any hurry to investigate this spate of bombings and attacks.”
The opposition party also pleaded with the authorities to compel security agencies to wake up to their responsibilities of securing lives and properties of the state’s residents by promptly arresting, investigating and prosecuting all those involved in violence.
APC stated that the quick action should be taken by the security agencies, to avert a situation whereby individuals and groups would resort to self-help.
The representative of Omuma/Etche Constituency in the House of Representatives (Ogbonna Nwuke) also said the razing of the Okehi court raised many questions, especially why any reasonable person would want to attack court premises.
Nwuke said: “Enemies of democracy are at work. Those who do not want to respect the rights of others, those who do believe in the rule of law and those who have no regard for people’s lives are at work.
“The law enforcement agencies should apprehend these faceless persons, who for political reasons, think the best thing to do is to turn Rivers State into an environment of terror. This is the worst thing that should happen in this country.
“The judiciary should take note that there are people who do not believe in the rule of law there are people who do not believe in the justice system and there are people out to intimidate others by all means, all in the name of politics.”
The former Rivers information commissioner also urged law enforcement agents to protect the interest of the common man, which the judicial process represents.
Nwuke added that emphasis must be placed on the fact that people could find justice when they go to court, have access to the law courts, with the judicial officers adequately protected.
Obuah said: “The case that temporarily restrained Hon. Evans Bipi from parading himself as the Speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly was to come up today (yesterday) at the Ahoada high Court.
“Our team of lawyers, made up of over 10 Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) from Abuja and Lagos arrived at the Ahoada High Court this (yesterday) morning to argue for the vacation of the interim order and saw the senseless and barbaric destruction of the Court.
“The PDP makes bold to suspect that the reported bombing was carried out by the agents of the Rivers State Government to prevent the court from sitting, so that the court would not be able to vacate the interim order made by the Ahoada High Court Judge, Hon Justice Charles Wali.
“Their aim also of bombing the Ahoada High Court is to further create a state of insecurity in Rivers State, to justify their continuous call for the removal of the State Commissioner of Police, Mbu Joseph Mbu.
“The PDP wishes to remind Rotimi Amaechi and his agents of darkness that the interim order issued by Justice Charles Wali of the Ahoada High Court lasted for only seven days, and it has since expired. Therefore, bombing the court to prevent it from sitting is a wasted, wicked, callous and shameful exercise by agents of Governor Rotimi Amaechi.
“The PDP condemns Rotimi Amaechi’s desperation for power and assures that Amaechi will be held responsible for any breakdown of law and order in Rivers State.”
Justice Wali also ordered that the status quo ante bellum prior to the July 9 fracas on the floor of the Rivers House of Assembly be maintained.
He ordered that Bipi must stop calling himself, acknowledging, allowing himself to be addressed as speaker or writing to any person/authority whatsoever in that capacity.
The judge also restrained Bipi from presiding either at plenary or committee of the House as speaker and acting in any manner whatsoever as the speaker.
Bipi must also not do anything to obstruct, hinder, prevent or disturb Amachree from performing his duties as the speaker. Security agencies to enforce the order.
The suit was filed by the Speaker of the Rivers House of Assembly (Amachree) and his deputy, Leyii Kwanee, with the Rivers House of Assembly, other lawmakers and the security agencies as defendants.
Bipi, however, vowed never to obey a “kangaroo” order, insisting that he remained the speaker.